Rainy weekend days often find me going through the enormous binder that holds recipes I have collected since college. The binder is a repository for most of my favorite recipes, even the ones I have found online. If I make a dish culled from a Twitter or Facebook recommendation and it works well in my repertoire, it goes immediately into the binder. These pages are annotated and often speckled with shiny dots of oil or a dusting of flour. They end up next to recipes purloined from aging waiting room magazines or yellowed newspaper clippings. The only way for a recipe to make it into the binder is if I have actually made the dish and plan to make it again.
I usually take time on the weekend to plan meals for the coming week, but when I have a little extra time, perusing my binder feels like a stroll down memory lane. I check my notes on certain dishes, remembering who I made them for and what occasion we were celebrating. Recently I came across a recipe from The New York Times Dining & Wine blog. The post, by Mark Bittman, appeared two years ago just in time for a summer party I was giving. It described a white bean spread with lemon and rosemary - a spread so versatile that in Bittman's words: "Its most obvious use is as a dip, [but] it can also form the basis of a wonderful sandwich. Or serve it at the center of a plate of lightly and simply cooked vegetables."
Bittman was right on. This spread is amazing, kind of like an Italian version of hummus. It is fragrant and earthy, simple and satisfying, and perfect for summer. It takes minutes to prepare, requires no cooking and yet is deceptively elegant. The ingredients are usually on hand, in case of an entertainment emergency. The recipe is also adaptable. I have tinkered with it over the past two years, adding a bit of crushed red pepper for heat, substituting basil for rosemary, and occasionally I even use grated Cabot Clothbound or Seriously Sharp Cheddar for depth and body.
Just last week, I saw a recipe on Twitter that substituted pureed chickpeas for the butter and flour used in many Macaroni and Cheese recipes. I tried that, but used the pureed bean spread in lieu of chickpeas. It was amazing!
So without further ado, I give you an elegant addition to your arsenal of crowd-pleasing recipes that are quick, easy and inexpensive.
TUSCAN WHITE BEAN SPREAD
2 cans white kidney beans (cannelini) drained
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. lemon zest
1 tsp. fresh rosemary, chopped
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper
3/4 cup grated Cabot Clothbound or Seriously Sharp Cheddar (optional)
sea salt and ground pepper to taste
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Zest lemons, taking care only to use the bright yellow skin. Avoid the white layer underneath, which is bitter. Mince garlic and rosemary.
Put beans, cheddar, zest, garlic, rosemary, and red pepper in the bowl of a food processor and pulse, slowly adding olive oil until thoroughly mixed and not quite creamy. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed. The spread can be served immediately or kept for several days in the refrigerator. Serve at room temperature to bring out all the flavors.